Philosophy can help us deal with life because it can be difficult. Let me rephrase that, life is difficult. We all have our issues. Although I don’t have any factual proof, I’m quite sure that a majority of people have problems and struggles. If life is so difficult, how can we navigate these troubled waters? Is there something to guide us or provide us with some support? For centuries we’ve known that life is tough. Seneca mentions as much in his consolation to Marcia.
“What is the need to weep at parts of life? All life is worthy of our tears: fresh problems will press upon you before you have done with the old ones.”Seneca, Dialogues and essays, Consolation to Marcia, 11
Ever since I started writing and expressing my interests in philosophy, people have been asking me what this means to me. In this post, I’d like to address this question. And to show why more people should explore what drives them. Furthermore, I will give you my view on what philosophy of life this should be and how you can find it.
She can use a nudge or a slap in the face
My own journey started a few years ago. Not sure what triggers it for others, but for me, it was one of those moments when you feel lost. Not knowing what to do with your life or what direction to take. That moment of being lost and having given up a little on finding it is when your mind is at its most vulnerable. This is the time when it is open to influences from the outside. It is a sensitive time because it can choose to follow a path to darker destinations. And these tend to appear as the easy way out. This is when we need a little push from lady fortune in the right direction. And she can use a slight nudge or a slap in the face.
For me, it involved getting the right inspiration at the right moment. A close friend introduced me to the wonderful world of books. As you can read in my post On Reading, where I talk about this more in-depth, I was never an avid reader. I read my books here and there, but it was never anything that stuck. But this time I was ready to start my reading habit. The right titles, inspiration, and being able to discuss them, taught me how to appreciate reading. The first books were science fiction and some of the classics. If you are interested in following my reading journey, you can see the books I’ve read in my books list.
Direct, no-nonsense, and practical
These books started to change my view on myself and I started asking questions because of them. The characters had their journeys and this made me aware that I was on a journey as well. But I didn’t know what that meant and how to go about it. After one of the many stimulating conversations with my friend, we hit on the topic of existentialism and absurdism. From there I picked up the book by Robert G. Olson, An Introduction to Existentialism. The wonderful aspect of his writing was the comparison between different philosophical streams. The moment I read about Stoicism, I recognized a central part of myself and understood the importance of creating a philosophy of life.
We have these pivotal moments in life and this was one for me. I felt understood and wanted to learn more about myself and thus about Stoicism. As you can see in my book list, there is still a searching person. I read other philosophies as well and make sure I keep an open mind to other views. But the Stoics knew who I was and spoke to me in my language. Direct, no-nonsense, and with practical advice. Some things I could implement and try directly and others are a continuous work in progress. The first practical example can be found in my post on Dealing with Frustrating People.
The first step to a Philosophy of Life
Besides these books, the YouTube channel from the School of Life provided me with a crash course online. This might not sound like a traditional way of getting into topics like these, but they work for me. Although nowadays this might be the way it works. And there is probably a lot to discuss about my views and how I interpret these readings, but it feels good to me. And that’s what we will look at more a little later on. During these years, applying the concepts and this philosophy to my life, they have become a part of me. Or better yet, I’ve acknowledged that they were inside me all along. Now I have recognized them and have taken the responsibility to live according to how I feel I should live my life.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the years stems from the dichotomy of control. Where our focus should be and how living the good life starts from that idea. We can control our opinions and views. Something that I have discussed in my post On Control. But to do so we must take responsibility for our lives. No one else will do it for you, it is up to you. That is not easy to accept and it requires changes in the mindset. This is, however, the first major step to becoming free.
A little help from my Stoic friends
The Stoics teach us that freedom should be found in the mind. Not in externals such as possessions, money, or status. We live in different times from the ancient philosophers. There is no risk of us being banished from our countries. Even if we move somewhere else, we can stay in touch with anyone anywhere. There were few philosophers who didn’t have to pay some price for spreading their word. Socrates was sentenced to drink hemlock and thus end his life because he stood by what he believed was right. Many others were either killed or sent elsewhere. We don’t have those risks anymore, but the lessons we can learn from their experiences are plentiful. What keeps us then from adopting a philosophy of life for ourselves.
The realization that freedom is created within our own minds opened my eyes to a new world. For example, to focus less on possessions and more on what is the right thing to do and how I wish to lead my life. For over a decade I’ve been living and working abroad, always ready to move when things felt too comfortable. With some help from my Stoic friends and some good reflection, it has become clear that it doesn’t matter where I am. As Seneca told his friend Lucilius on traveling.
“How can you wonder your travels do you no good, when you carry yourself around with you? You are saddled with the very thing that drove you away.”Seneca, Letters from a Stoic, Letter XXVIII
This doesn’t tell us that traveling is bad, but we have to do it for the right reasons. Not to escape from yourself, but to make sure it enriches your life. It was time to examine my own life and to do this with honesty. This was not a simple task and is one that will only end at the End. The exploration into the self is a beautiful discovery and should be cherished. However difficult it might be.
Trust your instincts
Stoicism works for me because I see myself in the teachings. I can identify myself with the tone and the message of this philosophy. I find many others interesting as well and I can learn from them. But Stoicism has been a part of me even before I learned about it. That’s why I don’t see it as a big change to implement their views. I do realize that not everyone has the same opinion. Which leads to some profound conversations. Conversations from which I can learn a lot. And I don’t claim to be right and especially not perfect. My intention here is to point others toward philosophy or at least self-exploration.
Finding your philosophy or way of life is something everyone has to do on their own. There are different ways of looking at life. The interesting thing is that there are more similarities to these than you think. It comes down to finding the one that suits your views and voice. This is the start of finding out who you are. We are all on our own journey and sometimes we do need a guide. Better follow someone who makes you feel good. And when you do, you’ll know. It will make sense and things will fall into their place. That doesn’t mean that suddenly everything is solved, but it is a big first step. You must trust your instincts and have confidence that it will help you.
A nudge toward a Philosophy of Life
To find out what works best for you is done by trial and error. My suggestion would be to read books, watch some YouTube videos, talk to people around you, and follow people on social media. Keep an open mind and listen to everyone and everything. Yet, the most important thing is to listen to yourself. Feel what works best. Question what you discover without judgment. Most of all, be honest. This is for you and you’re only cheating yourself if you don’t do this truthfully.
Philosophy sounds heavy. When I talk about this with people it feels like a threshold has been raised between us. But I’d like to compare it to sailing on a big boat. You can’t do it alone and the different philosophers are on board with you. You use their advice and assign them the roles they are most capable of fulfilling. But at the end of the day, it is your ship and voyage. It is up to you to find the course and then stay on it. You might not know the specific ports you will dock at, but the general direction is what matters.
It would be my pleasure to help you with your discovery if you think you could use my views. That is completely up to you. But I am more than happy to help or listen. What I do hope is that this post has given you one of those nudges. And that it points you in the direction of creating your philosophy of life.